Contextual Intelligence: Welcome to the Age of Experience (Part I)

Welcome to the Age of Experience

Ask anyone about their last vacation and they are much more likely to tell you about an experience they had rather than their planes, trains and automobiles logistics. At a restaurant, people are more likely to share pictures of their food because of the way it was presented. Academics call this empiricism; regular people call it a great experience. In any case, it has fundamentally changed the way people engage with products, services and brands.

Even the word “brand” has changed. Brand used to represent a product name, logo or symbol. As the market leader in soft drinks, Coca-Cola has long been associated with “The pause that refreshes,” “Things go better with Coke,” and “The real thing.” Today Coke’s slogan points at the experience– “Taste the feeling.”

BMW’s tagline went from “The ultimate driving machine” to “Designed for driving pleasure”. Then quickly reverted after the brand campaign bombed. BMW was attempting to shift from the product to the experience. Marketers around the globe are beginning to focus on the experiences customers have with their products rather than the product itself. Welcome to the Age of Experience.

In search of the perfect moment

In his wildly acclaimed work, “Swimming to Cambodia,” actor and story teller, Spaulding Gray, recounts his quest for his “perfect moment.” In this case it was off a beach in Thailand after he had wrapped his minor role in the movie, “The Killing Fields.” He swam out into the ocean and for a brief moment it was just him, the sun, sky, and the sea. Everything was in harmony. Nothing else mattered. In psychology, this state is known as FLOW . We all have these experiences. For some of us, it may be hitting the best drive in of our lives. For others, its asking the prettiest girl to prom and hearing the magic word, “yes”. For agent Cooper in Twin Peaks, it’s “This must be where pies go when they die.”

The challenge for today’s brands, marketers and CX professionals is to create one of those perfect experiences where people achieve a state of FLOW when engaging with the brand. Being in FLOW can be measured as the balance between the passion or enjoyment you associate with a brand experience and the degree of control you have over the experience. Do you hate waiting in line? The last time I was in LA I convinced by a friend to go to In-N-Out burgers. We waited in the drive-thru line for 20 minutes and there was nothing I could do about it. Needless to say, the food wasn’t that good to overcome the wait. My brand experience with In-N-Out was not in a state of flow.

For customer experience marketing, Flow is enabled when two conditions are met.

First, the brand understands its audience (behavior, attitudes and motivations) as well as the context in which the person engages with the brand. Secondly, the brand must act on those insights and deliver an experience that is highly personalized and contextually relevant for each individual or audience segment.

The combination of obtaining and acting upon insight is what we call Contextual Intelligence. It is the key to success in the age of experience. Brands that leverage Contextual Intelligence are most likely to generate “perfect moments” for their customers and create a sense of flow. The reward? Brand loyalty and by extension, customer revenue.

This is part one in a series. Read Part II here.

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